For 12 years, Seven Oaks has remained mostly as it was: a grand but incomplete master-planned community in southwest Bakersfield.
That period of relative quiet ended Wednesday, albeit symbolically, as developers broke ground on a 175-acre expansion planned to deliver the first of 727 new homes next summer.
The new project, Belcourt Seven Oaks, southwest of White Lane and Buena Vista Road just south of Grand Island Village, is a brick-themed residential development distinct for its walkable, liveable design.
Mission Viejo-based developer Woodbridge Pacific Group intends to surround Belcourt's homes with an array of leisure amenities and open spaces, as well as a business park and neighborhood retail being built by Bolthouse Properties LLC.
WPG's plan elicited admiration among city officials and community leaders gathered for the groundbreaking.
"It's really the nicest, pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly, walkable design I've seen," said Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy.
City Councilman Harold Hanson, whose Ward 5 includes Belcourt, called the project "terrific," saying he was excited to see WPG pick up after Seven Oaks' original developer, Castle & Cooke, concluded initial work on the property in 2002.
WPG, which last year purchased land for the project from Bolthouse, expects to bring in "guest developers" to build some of the homes. These are to be unified by trails, a recreation center, canopy trees and public art the developer hopes will help create a sense of community.
"We want to have people interacting and intermingling," WPG partner Carl Neuss said.
The lots at Belcourt are expected to range in size from 4,000 to 14,000 square feet, with the homes measuring between 2,100 and 4,000 or more square feet. The target buyers are young families and empty-nesters. Gated apartments and an assisted living/memory care facility are planned next to the project.
Belcourt's full build-out is years away. Initial construction is scheduled to begin early next year, followed by the opening of an information center at the property in the spring. The first model homes are to open in summer 2015, and the entire project is anticipated to be finished in mid-2019.
A number of businesses already have signed up for space at the development. They are Hoffman Hospice, Houchin Community Blood Bank, Kern Schools Federal Credit Union and oil producer Seneca Resources Corp.
Also moving in is Trinity Anglican Church, whose members previously worshipped at what is now St. Paul's Episcopal Church on 17th Street.